In an email interview with Business Today, Azlan Ahmad, Head of Sales, Start Up & Small Business, Sage Asia, shares his insights on digital transformation measures SMEs need to undertake in the short and medium term to win this tide.
By Sharon Chang
“Because of this pandemic, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Malaysia have finally woken up, realising digital transformation is a priority.”
It’s apparent the SMEs have been hard hit by the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic. Many face declining sales, challenges in production, issues caused by supply chain disruptions and the inability to physically engage with customers.
Nonetheless, it is also clear that the SMEs most prepared for this climate have begun their journey into digital transformation some time ago, with the pandemic acting as a catalyst for acceleration.
“However, for businesses that have been caught off guard,” Azlan says in a emailed response to questions from Business Today, there are key steps that can help them adapt to the current climate and navigate the post Covid-19 era.
“It is time to explore online collaborative software and virtual conferencing as a culture.
“A commitment from all stakeholders to prioritise these efforts are pivotal,” he says, adding that by embracing digital communication both internally and with customers ensures the business will run continuously at optimum engagement levels, while keeping intact both the business identity and employer branding, despite the current distancing.
The Magic of Personal Touch
He also adds that it is imperative to adopt the magic of personal touch. Even amongst all the technological advancements and collaboration tools in the market, do not forget that the staff and customers are above all, people.
Develop robust work from home and customer relations measures that prioritise video conferencing and calls over just email communication.
“In this unprecedented time, the entire nation is lacking the social interaction that they are accustomed to, making that personal touch all the more important,” Azlan remarks.
Whilst this period may have kept many of us on a roll and busy working harder to get results, stop and make exclusive time for people, it will pay off.
E-learning as a Staple
In response to questions, he says, “Many schools and training centres are already offering virtual learning options in view of the current situation, hence it is essential that businesses leverage this period to pick up digital skills and software knowledge to future proof the business.
“Upskill employees in areas of digital transformation – adopt e-learning as a staple. This is the time to prepare for what lies ahead.”
Engage with Virtual Events
In addition, he says that companies should begin to convert any workshops, conferences or seminars into virtual platforms. It is likely the public will be advised to practice social distancing for a longer period even after the movement control order (MCO) is lifted.
“Leverage platforms that are user friendly and allows ease of engagement with the viewers and vice versa,” Azlan adds.
Automate for Improved Productivity
Under this current circumstance, he also points out that many businesses are facing the looming prospect of reduced productivity or even staff retrenchment.
It is vital that all functions are working efficiently to ensure maximum output with the key focus to improve productivity and reduce time wasted on repetitive administrative work.
“Leverage on software which can automatically repeat recurring entries periodically, this will drastically cut down on manual entries,” Azlan explains.
The ability to automate tasks is an important aspect of digital transformation.
Access Government Grants
Azlan adds that the government has rolled out many initiatives, such as the SME Digitisation Initiative which allows qualifying SMEs to apply for 50 percent matching grants of up to RM5,000 to acquire Accounting/ERP systems, Point of Sales systems, Payroll and others.
“Companies should take advantage of this but, find out and choose the technology and software which are affiliated with the grants.”
Yet, Azlan emphasises that at the end of the day, it’s about a community sharing of expertise and knowledge to ensure businesses can overcome this disruption.
Companies that fail to adopt and accelerate digital transformation as a core concept, will find it increasingly difficult to stay competitive both amidst and post-Covid-19.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to last for months if not years, and in line with SME Corporation Malaysia (SME Corp) target to digitalise all SMEs by 2024, there hasn’t been a better time to make the shift.
Whilst the agency has intensified efforts to assist SMEs in adopting digital technologies since last year, there has been no greater push than that presented by this pandemic.
The shift has taken its course and the conversation is not about if your business will digitally transform but when and how.
“The economy needs all its players to rise up in order for it to bounce back from this colossal episode,” Azlan concludes.
In an effort to ensure SMEs have easy access to the kind of information they may need to ride the disruption, the team at Sage has put together the Coronavirus Hub. This hub is an online platform with practical, straightforward advice on tackling the challenges businesses are facing, quick access to solutions that enable businesses to operate remotely and useful resources from government and official sources to help organisations navigate the evolving situation.
Azlan Ahmad, as the head of the SSB (Startup & Small Business) business at Sage is responsible for looking into the needs of this segment, managing and growing all SSB product lines across Asia, and work in close collaboration with marketing, product development, partner operations and Customer Success team.